Car reviews - Ford - Escape - range
Punchy entry drivetrain, fantastic steering, plush ride comfort on small wheels, high equipment level of Ambiente and Trend
Room for improvement
Diesel feels heavy and lumpy on large wheels, active safety tech optional, value equation evaporates at Titanium level
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27 Feb 2017
IT IS perhaps fitting that the vehicle once called Kuga is now tagged Escape, because Ford’s latest medium-SUV entrant appears like a tale of two different models.
With a starting price of under $28,490 plus on-road costs, the Escape Ambiente is superbly equipped for the price. Hubcap-cloaked 17-inch steel wheels and a blacked-out grille treatment provide a downmarket first impression, however the cabin’s comfort and equipment quickly elevate its second and third showing.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel is nice in the hands, and the 8.0-inch colour touchscreen offers plenty to poke fingers at, including standard digital radio, integrated satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology and reversing camera to complement the rear sensors. There is also dual-zone climate control complete with rear air vents.
The front pews are supportive and comfortable, as is the rear seat that scores a backrest tilt function and 60:40 split-fold mechanism that at the pull of a lever lowers the bench towards the floor to permit a largely flat cargo area.
With an upright backrest, the boot holds a still-respectable 406L and the space is both square and usable, with a lower loading lip than many rivals.
Ford has indicated that among its front-wheel-drive 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder model grades, most buyers will move beyond the standard manual or its $29,990 auto Ambiente sibling, and into the newly added auto-only $32,990 Trend.
The Trend mostly includes vanity items such as 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights and wipers, auto-dimming rearview mirror and leather-trimmed gearshifter, but particularly from the outside it looks and feels richer than the Ambiente.
The above model grades all make for a very impressive Escape for buyers. The manual gets 110kW of power at 6000rpm and 240Nm of torque between 1600rpm and 5000rpm, while the autos score an additional 24kW and identical torque at the same engine revolutions.
In a medium-SUV segment populated by uniformly thrashy 2.0-litre non-turbocharged four-cylinder engines at the entry level – see Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 – the Ford’s engine and manual/auto combinations provide welcome relief.
The drivetrain operation is as smooth and sure as the fabulous steering response and soothing, plush ride, particularly on the Ambiente’s 55-aspect 17s but also on the Trend’s 50-profile 18s. In fact, the whole driving experience is as upmarket as the exterior look is not.
So begins the tale of two Escapes.
Stepping to the all-wheel-drive Trend requires a further $3000 – now $35,990.
It also necessitates nabbing a larger 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder that Ford explains is mostly an all-new unit despite featuring the same 178kW (at 5500rpm) and 345Nm (from 2000rpm to 4500rpm) as before.
Although it was not available to drive at the national media launch of the Escape, experience with the older engine and carry-over six-speed automatic in the Kuga indicates that this is a discreetly fast drivetrain. However, it is also a heavy one.
Where the entry models weigh between 1559kg and 1607kg, and feel relatively light and lively on the road, the all-wheel-drive versions tip the scales between 1719kg and 1746kg.
After testing the all-wheel drive Trend with its $2500-optional 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder – now getting up there in price – it proved not nearly as impressive as the entry models.
Ford confirmed that different model grades score different suspension setups to deal with weight differences, and that could explain why the Trend diesel delivered an unsettled and jolting ride that was not in keeping with the smooth proceedings of the cheaper grades.
Although the diesel offers a healthy 132kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm between 2000rpm and 2500rpm, it did not feel nearly as lively as an equivalent CX-5 diesel that is almost 100kg lighter with an extra 20Nm of torque. The Mazda is also about to be replaced by an even lighter model.
With pricing now at $38,490 for the Trend diesel – or a whole $47,490 for the Titanium diesel – it further highlights the dated cabin design of the Escape, which features ordinary cabin plastics and bland trim finishes. It is not a problem when the pricetag begins with a ‘2’.
As part of a reasonably priced ($1200) package, the Trend offers a power operated tail-gate and keyless auto-entry. The Titanium features both items as standard, but it remains $7800 more expensive and its further additions are limited to larger 19s, front parking sensors with auto-park assistance, leather trim with seat heating, nine-speaker audio and a panoramic glass roof.
Most disappointingly, a $1300 Technology Pack still remains optional for both Trend and Titanium, incorporating active cruise control, sub-50km/h autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitor and lane-keep assistance.
Ford was criticised by ANCAP for leaving AEB out of its Mustang sportscar, and the company responded by arguing that parts of the industry safety body’s regime were focussed on family vehicles. It begs the question why potentially life-saving collision-sensing, auto-braking technology is optional even on the top version of this family car, and is not available on the Ambiente at all.
The decision places a further wedge between the impressive entry models and the less competitive flagship versions of this Ford medium SUV. At around $30,000 the front-wheel drive Ambiente and Trend offer the in-cabin equipment and on-road finesse to embarrass similarly priced rivals, but the all-wheel drive Trend and Titanium are heavier and showier, yet with crucial safety kit still optional.
While there is not a dud in the range, in the case of the latest Escape it really is all about the base.
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